Monday, April 24, 2017

On Deck Circle: To DH Or Not To DH?

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

Interleague play during the regular season is here to stay in the MLB. Once thought of as a gimmick in order to liven up the sport by creating new rivalries and bringing back some old ones, the realignment of leagues in 2013 to make 15 teams in each means that interleague play is a permanent stable of the game now.

And every year there seems to be a topic at hand amongst fans: why does one league (AL) have a DH while the other league (NL) does not?

This is purely a hypothetical question and debate, the MLB front office has not bothered to even kick around the idea of changing the rules and unifying the league. Fans will always debate this though, especially when factoring in which league has an advantage in the World Series since the DH rule changes based in which league hosts the game.

Here goes my take on it, I personally like the NL game with no DH and all of the strategies that go along with the pitcher's batting, but the MLB needs to make the DH rule a uniform rule across both leagues.

The baseball historians will all disagree and say that it should be no DH for both leagues because that is baseball in it's purest form. What makes baseball so different from other sports is just how much strategy and managing goes on during games, and the NL game showcases all that is great about baseball.

But the hardcore baseball fans aren't going anywhere and while they might be angry of a DH rule in the National League, those fans aren't going anywhere. They will still be baseball fans, still spend the same amount of money on going to baseball games and will watch the same amount of games on TV. The hardcore fan will always be there, a decision like this won't alienate them from the game and if it does then their dedication to being a baseball fan should be questioned.

The MLB's decision on this should be based on what's best for the popularity of the league, meaning what is more likely to grab the casual fan. And this is why the DH rule is the right decision to make, because the casual fan wants offense. The DH is usually a guy that bats in the middle of the lineup and is known to crush the ball, the NL would essentially be replacing the pitcher (typically a poor hitter) for a guy that can smash 25 HR's or so each year. Offense will definitely bump up in the NL and it will be due to the measuring tape HR's that everyone loves to watch. The Home run is the most popular highlight in all of baseball and the MLB would be adding an extra 300 home runs a year by placing a DH in the NL.

Just in the past decade, both the NFL and NHL have made drastic rule changes that catered to the offense. Both leagues have done what they can to make everything bigger on offense, from stats to points to highlights. Take the NFL for example, they have made numerous changes on not touching the WR past 5 yards, and a crack down on hits on the QB and defenseless receivers. The hardcore fan dislikes the rules, stating that football is a sport based on big hits and defense. Football has turned into a "pansy" league now according to the hardcore football fan, citing that defensive players cant clutch and grab receivers downfield or deliver a football-jarring hit on them anymore.

But guess what? Those hardcore fans didn't leave and are still supporting the league just as much as they used to. On top of that, the NFL has grown widely popular especially over this past decade, pulling in casual fans with majority of them becoming diehards.

Now I'm not going to say that this will happen for baseball. Football made big changes to numerous different aspects of the game while baseball is merely changing one rule. But basing the ruling on what will bring more of the casual fans in, MLB is better off with both leagues having the DH rather than both not having a DH. The fact is the casual fan thinks baseball is too slow and boring and would prefer a 9-6 game over a 2-1 pitcher's duel.

Baseball has been trying to figure out ways in which to speed up the game, the DH rule in the NL will be one way of doing so. Due to the pitcher being in the lineup, the NL uses strategies such as pinch hitting and bullpen strategies earlier and more often than the AL, especially in the playoffs. This slows down the game, the constant changing of pitchers drags the game along, so this is beneficial for pitchers to stay in the game instead of being pinch hit for since they will not have to bat anymore.

Baseball will always have a lot of strategy, this will just eliminate some of the strategy that could be deemed "overkill".

Adding a DH will also add longevity to some players' career. Some of the great power hitters will be able to continue their career by becoming a DH on a team in either league. There are currently 15 NL teams, adding a DH opens up jobs on those teams that are designed specifically for power hitters. It's the reason why the Angels offered Albert Pujols a 10 year deal and Cardinals would not match it, once Pujols gets older and becomes a liability in field the Angels can just plug him in at DH for his last remaining years of his contract. Had the Cardinals matched the Angels offer and Pujols signed back with them, they would be stuck with him at 1B no matter how much his body has broken down and last few years of his contract would be considered a bust. Or imagine the final few years of David Ortiz career had he been on an NL team instead, he would have been considered washed up and ready to retire 5 years ago. It works both ways, and the players overall would benefit from the DH being in both leagues.

And of course, there's always the money factor in this equation. MLB players get a paid a lot of money, and team owners see them as assets. Pitchers, even in the NL, get paid to pitch and having them bat is taking unnecessary risks. The NL is putting these pitchers and their 200+ million dollar contracts, in harm's way of getting hit by a pitch, pulling a muscle running down first, tweak his back while swinging or any number of common injuries that could land them on the DL. Think the Dodgers really want Kershaw out there taking hacks? Think the Mets love seeing Noah Syndergaard swinging away? Think the Nationals aren't holding their breath every time Max Scherzer runs out a groundball? Imagine a team being in the middle of a playoff race in September and losing their best pitcher due to fouling a pitch off his foot or getting hit by pitch in the hand, at least if that happens to the DH then batting is at least something he's supposed to be doing and something he's getting paid for. A few years ago, the MLB changed the rule on plowing into the catcher once Buster Posey suffered a season ending injury during a collision. Instead of waiting for a pitcher to get injured while batting, the MLB should be proactive here and adopt the DH rule for the National League.

As much as I enjoy the National League game, the best move for baseball would be to unify both leagues with a DH. And while this isn't on the table and not being discussed by the MLB front office, it should be and the MLB should do what's best for the popularity of the sport as a whole and add the DH rule to the National League.

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